Review: Split

Published January 19, 2017 by biggayhorrorfan

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Don’t Breathe. Lights Out. Occulus. Insidious 2. The Conjuring. Those are just some of the recent horror films that, off handedly, paint their maternal characters, in lead or supporting roles, in a bad light. Perhaps, the fact that these women are failing their children due to emotional issues (Don’t Breathe, Lights Out, Insidious 2) or from a form of supernatural possession (Occulus, The Conjuring) does raise the dramatic stakes for some. But, upon reading that James McAvoy’s character in M. Night Shyamalan’s Split was suffering from dissociative identity disorder due to the severe abuse he suffered at the hands of his mother, I was truly tremulous about another round of matriarchal bashing, celluloid style.

Nicely, despite some issues in tone and pacing, Shyamalan does balance things out in this, his second low budget horror outing since his return-to-form with 2015’s highly recommended The Visit.  By the final moments he is able to show that oppression and violence, unfortunately, exist across all spectrums of parental guidance. The emotional fate of Casey, his young heroine, thoughtfully and quietly played by The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy, therefore resonates, profoundly, long after the director-writer provides the audience with his form of a Marvel movie nod as the film moves into its somber credit sequence.

split-annaCasey, as sharpened movie fans know, is one of three girls kidnapped by McAvoy’s Kevin, whose twenty-three personalities are beginning to shift with the more mischievous and violent of them gaining control over the others. Despite their fear, the girls find ways to fight back as Kevin’s various alters warn them about the coming of something referred to as The Beast. (In particular, it is nice to see such a strong reaction from female characters who, in another universe, would be caricaturized as insecure and indecisive victims.) Meanwhile, Karen Fletcher, Kevin’s therapist, who is working on an academic theory that her patients’ severe traumas have actually shaped them into something far outside of the ordinary, begins to suspect that something is not right with Kevin and begins to investigate.

Definitely vibing on Hitchcock by way of DePalma, everything from Spellbound to Psycho to Dressed to Kill might come to mind here, Shyamalan crafts some wonderfully tense set-ups.  Even when things go deliciously astray, he occasionally evokes the fun rhythms of DePalma’s (less well received) Raising Cain. This is in large part due to McAvoy’s enthusiastic mastery. Whether he is embodying the peculiar Hedwig, a nine year old who thinks kissing leads to pregnancy, or the primly efficient Patricia, he supplies the project with nervy energy and a strange, much needed sense of black humor.split-betty

Meanwhile, it is nice to see the divine Betty Buckley with a prominent role in a horror feature, forty years after her film debut as the sympathetic Miss Collins in Carrie. Calm yet passionate, her Dr. Fletcher often floats past in soft, curvy waves, accentuated by large necklaces and gesticulating, jeweled fingers. She is the smart, revolutionary aunt that young feminists (of every sex) would love to claim as their own. Unfortunately, Shyamalan doesn’t quite find a way to balance her scenes with those of the young women in peril. Therefore, momentum is lost and the tension flags.

Still, there are enough wildly eccentric ideas on display, including some the mental health industry might find questionable, and enough of Shyamalan’s astute artistry here to qualify this picture as a particular success. The last look at Taylor-Joy’s haunted eyes might also find a significant entryway into your soul, as well.

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  Until the next time – SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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Music to Make Horror Movies By: Lisa Hartman (2)

Published January 15, 2017 by biggayhorrorfan

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It was a femme fatale fiesta over at the USA Network in the early 90s when their television films, draped in genre atmospherics, featured actresses such as Joanna Cassidy, Suzanne Somers, Sela Ward, Traci Lords, Crystal Bernard and Morgan Fairchild getting terrorized and fighting back against psycho stalkers, devilish tots and perverts in dark vans.

The glorious Lisa Hartman joined in with this cosmetic strewn cadre by starring in 1991’s Red Wind, a thriller in which Kris Morrow, the psychotherapist she plays, finds herself involved with a murderous, gender bending patient. lisahartmanredwindgwg24-vi

Of course, if Hartman had been sporting the hair there that she, gloriously, works in the video for I Don’t Need Love, the single released from her fourth LP Til My Heart Stops, she probably could have cut through that deadly situation in a matter of seconds.

Hartman, who is the first person to be featured twice in a row in this column (such love I have!!!), went on to record a number of hit duets with her singer husband Clint Black, and still maintains a deserved and healthy fan base at https://www.facebook.com/Lisa-Hartman-Black-182279741844146.

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Until the next time – SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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Hell of a Gal: Pulsebeat

Published January 12, 2017 by biggayhorrorfan

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(Hell of a Gal explores the films of the ever luscious Euro Vixen Helga Liné.)

Mother Earth or mother of Daniel Greene…the stupendous Helga Liné is fit to play them all. Of course, in 1985’s Pulsebeat, a gloriously goofy Perfect take-off, she plays the latter with cool ease and directness. pulsebeat

Naturally, the big joke (of sorts) here is that Liné, at 53, is still gorgeous enough to be confused as the younger, muscular Greene’s ex-lover. The scriptwriters definitely spend the first half of the film leading the audience in that direction as Liné’s conniving Marlene tries to undermine the smooth and juicy Roger (Greene), her former employee, as he attempts to save his health club from certain extinction. Of course, Mama Bear is just lonely…and controlling…and wants her son at her side to help run her own oasis of perfection.

helga-2But by the time the two rival clubs are competing against each other in the film’s climatic, unconvincingly strenuous National Aerobithon, Marlene reveals a bulging pair of maternal instincts and urges her flesh and blood onto victory, despite her own business interests.

Unfortunately, sticking to the tried and true, the film, disappointingly yet unsurprisingly, does focus on Marlene’s physical upkeep with Roger, at one point, calling her “embalmed” and warning her about “her face cracking”. Granted this is a silly comedy, but these moments do stick out as another indication of how women, particularly those of a certain age, are viewed in society. Funnily, here, it almost comes off as ironic, as everyone involved treats Roger’s almost freakishly large muscles and slavish devotion to his body as a normal state of being while a middle aged woman’s attempts to grow older, gracefully, are treated with contempt. Thankfully, Liné, like every woman of grace and power, wears the insults well.helga-1

Until the next time – SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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Music to Make Horror Movies By: Lisa Hartman

Published January 9, 2017 by biggayhorrorfan

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She should have been cowering from that electricity enhanced alien in Not of this World (1991), but instead the exquisite Lisa Hartman decided she would rather be Hiding From Love as witnessed by her 1982 album Letterock, a recording that was even rereleased as a self titled offering, later in the decade, due to her popularity on the nighttime soap opera Knots Landing. MBDDEBL EC003

Hartman, who also provided a killer surprise in Wes Craven’s Deadly Blessing (1981), even performed that popular Bryan Adams tune on an episode of Solid Gold.

Unfortunately, Letterock (and its subsequent reiteration) never really took off with the public. Interestingly, it is one of the perkiest female rock records of that era with some fun new wave and pop numbers and a running time that passes by brightly. It also qualifies as very ahead of its time. The song Johnny’s Always On My Mind details the female narrator’s attempts to steal a man away from his boyfriend –   a bold concept even in today’s music world, let alone in the period of time when it was actually released.

So, bravo, Goddess Hartman….

….and until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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Best of 2016

Published December 31, 2016 by biggayhorrorfan

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As usual, this year, I missed stuff. …and I don’t mean my mother or that look that guy might have given me in the vegan department of my grocery store. No. I’m talking about films. So, admittedly, I haven’t seen Ouija: Origin of Evil or Blair Witch or even, damn it, Boo! A Madea Halloween!  But I feel I have witnessed enough terror strewn celluloid excellence to do a (mini) year end best of list – my first ever! Nicely, what I was taken with, when I was re-examining these artistic statements, was how I truly connect to works of horror on an emotional level. They inform my feelings on the world and reflect what is going on with me, on a day-to-day basis. It’s a beautiful thing and revealing of the importance of a genre that is so often maligned by people who are disturbed by its images and neglect its underlying values. So, here, from bottom to top – and I won’t make a joke about that, but you can – are my most loved works of scare and intrigue from 2016.

hushHush. It’s a concept that has enlivened many horror flicks – the handicapped woman fighting against the odds. In Mike Flanigan’s well crafted piece about a deaf writer outwitting an aggressive and cunning killer, the heroine is such a nicely defined, strategic defense player that viewers were treated to one of the strongest femmes in horror of this year – and possibly the decades to come. As Maddie, the lead, co-writer Kate Siegel strikes notes of anguished terror and flinty determination – emotions that many of us have felt in overwhelming waves as the terrors imagined by this year’s presidential election have become a nightmarish reality.

fender-bender-2Fender Bender. Writer-director Mark Pavia gives us Hilary, a strong Latina heroine, here whose fateful stop sign encounter with a serial killer changes her world forever. A primer on what the slasher genre should become, the downbeat ending, influenced by the lead character’s heritage, is filled with a haunting poeticism. Props are also due to the inclusion of a strong gay supporting character in the form of one of Hilary’s best friends, Erik, played with assurance by Kelsey Leos Montoya. Overall, Pavia’s project is imbued with the knowledge that, unlike reel life, in real life things don’t always work out in a should-be victor’s favor, especially among minorities and women.

i-am-pretty-thing-2016I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House. A mood piece about a young caretaker who finds much more than she bargained for when moving in with a dying writer, this feature by Oz Perkins, is long on quiet emotions and the terrors of the mind. With strong ties to the work of Shirley Jackson, which is reason enough to recommend this, this peon to loneliness and mysterious connections is highlighted by a quick appearance of Perkin’s father, Anthony, and the return to the screen of Paula Prentiss (The Stepford Wives, Saturday, the 14th). Even though the notion of the neurotic female is an old (and, perhaps, outdated) one in the world of scare cinema, Perkins’ concentration on friendship among women, even of the ghostly variety, and the curiosities and strange strengths of the feminine nature make this a subtle and beautiful mediation on life and death, overall.

neon-demonThe Neon Demon. Nicholas Winding Refn’s gorgeous look at how the entertainment industry can swallow souls and how badly women treat each other could have been as exploitative as the subject it addresses. With a bevy of beautiful models in undress and a predatory lesbian on the prowl, it is almost understandable how many could doubt the intent of this film. Yet, it’s full sense of weirdness, witchery and almost giallo style artistry eventually override these concerns. Refn and his excellent cast, including Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee, even make you feel sympathy at times for their self-possessed, desperate characters, a haunting note in a truly unusual, modern fairy tale.

the-handmaidenThe Handmaiden. With the twists and turns of prime Hitchcock, Chan-wook Park’s latest is a gorgeous exercise in female strength and independence. Featuring elements of Saw-like horror, this tale of a young thief sent to free a housebound heiress from her perverted uncle while simultaneously setting her up as prey for a con man is an unusual yet deep and loving look at the ingenuity of women in times of trial. Granted, the explicit lesbian sex scenes seem to be more for the benefit of the male gaze than any story necessity, but Park ties even these disadvantages together with a visual and sonic completeness. That sense of artistry, along with moments of cruel yet stinging humor and the stunningly powerful acting of all involved, make this my favorite movie of the year.

Until the next time – SWEET love and pink GRUE…and onward to 2017, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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Review: Party Night

Published December 29, 2016 by biggayhorrorfan

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From torrential rainfall to broken hearts to pyrotechnic teens, prom nights have always had the potential for disaster. Unfortunately for them (and lucky for us), the soon to be graduating friends in writer-director Troy Escamilla’s fun throwback Party Night find that this particular rite of passage can be very deadly, as well.

Here, sensitive Amy and crew head to her boyfriend’s uncle’s remote house for an intimate celebration after their prom. Of course, girls have been disappearing at an alarming rate, nearby, and the six young adults soon find that they have landed right in the killer’s lair. Amid drunken relationship trauma and the angry rhythms of growing pains, members of the group are soon separated from each other and meet their fates at a stealthy killer’s savage hands…and his various knives and assorted kitchen pottery, as well. Soon the ever reliable final girl is fighting for her life as gallons of red stuff spews and lives are irreparably damaged forever.

With loving reverence, Escamilla plays with the familiar tropes of these films…an important event, a secluded location and lots of bloodshed. We get the expected characters, as well, with the intelligent, slightly awkward heroine, her sensitive boyfriend and a variety of sexually adventurous and hard partying companions. But as a writer, Escamilla adds nice shades of angst and normalcy to his stock personas, giving all of the major characters a nice sense of depth.

The actors also accomplish much in making this an effective exercise. Nicely, they are a diverse lot, culturally, and despite a bit of awkwardness here and there, they deliver solid performances. Laurel Toupal is, perhaps, the most natural and endearing as Amy, with her final moments ringing with true emotion. Tommie Vegas, meanwhile, brings a nice sense of effective sass to Molly while Ryan Poole and Drew Shotwell each perform with a natural grace and a definite color of urgency when the stakes of their characters’ lives are thrown into savage turmoil. Nicely, as an antidote to the expected female nudity, it is Poole who spends the final third of the film shirtless while Toupal’s Amy fights for her life in a formal gown.

The film’s true highlights, though, just may be Mark D’Errico’s gloomy and prescient score and Heather Benson’s special effects work. Benson’s wounds are simple yet effective, but she definitely luxuriates in the red stuff, making Party Night one of the bloodiest slasher films ever made, a fine achievement for a film made from a very obvious love for the genre, but very little cash.

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Until the next time – SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan

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Music to Make Horror Movies By: Barbi Benton

Published December 26, 2016 by biggayhorrorfan

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There are many ways that people get from Point A to Point B, but for those who wonder how Susan Jeremy wound up being threatened at that nefarious, under-populated medical institution in X-Ray (AKA Hospital Massacre), Brass Buttons, the number 5 song by that beleaguered horror heroine’s portrayer Barbi Benton, certainly won’t provide any clues.

Of course, this little country ditty, written by Bobby Borchera and Mack Vickery, does seem to take its inspiration from Benton’s physique and her years as a Playboy model. But why, oh, why didn’t the two ever write about her adventures filming Deathstalker or her days flirting with David Doyle’s Bosley on Charlie’s Angels? Now, that would really be a song!

Until the next time – SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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